Market Street Discovery
The PubScout happily stumbles upon JohnnyLukes Kitchen Bar in Wilmington.
After my GPS directed me to an empty highway overpass that looked nothing like the ABC store I sought, I put a different ABC store in the search after coming out of the Wilmington Costco. And that one was where it was supposed to be — right on Market Street.
With a long tractor trailer blocking the turn I needed to make to get in the lot, I went a few hundred feet past it to make the turn, and in so doing I passed a place named JohnnyLukes.
It being well after lunchtime, the missus, who had been there once before, suggested we stop in, uttering the magic words: “It’s a very neat place with a really good beer list.”
- She got my attention.
The missus complains sometimes that I never listen to her (at least that’s what I think she said), but I’m glad I did this time.
JohnnyLukes, whose owners are transplanted Philadelphians, greets you with a welcoming, comfortable ambience the first time you walk in. The second time, they may greet you with a hug, according to part-owner manager Abby Burke, who, along with owners John Jackson and Luke Burke, values her loyal local customers to the point where they and their families can usually expect an embrace (once COVID-19 is under control, of course!).
The business celebrated its fourth year in operation in February, and by Abby’s account, it’s doing very well. With a brand new, 180-room hotel slated to go up next to the JohnnyLukes location — a hotel with no restaurant, mind you — the future is looking very bright indeed. And not just for JohnnyLukes, but for those guests who stay within walking distance.
JohnnyLukes food menu offers something for everyone. Try Uncle Stan’s Chicken Pot Pie with a New Anthem Beer Project Perpetual Outrage, a double dry-hopped 7% IPA with a nose reminiscent of walking through an orange and grapefruit grove and a smooth, satisfying taste to match.
Regarding the beer at JohnnyLukes, there are 18 to 20 beers on tap at any given time, and they are rotated regularly by Bar Manager Zack Kerr. Wilmington Brewing’s Tropical Lightning, the ubiquitous local favorite, is on the list, along Edward Teach offerings.
“Our guests love local beers,” Abby said. “Zack accommodates them.”
It appears the regulars at JohnnyLukes have extended that love to the restaurant as well as the beers, as there is a large cadre of them who frequent the business.
New Anthem is a local beer that complemented my Uncle Stan’s experience. The recipe for that chicken pot pie is a family one, like most everything else on the menu. The ranch dressing that came with my beer-battered fries had a very pleasant kick due to another house recipe. And those fries … wow! I don’t use my highest food accolade outside of my blog; in magazines like this with a wide family audience, I substitute words like outstanding, phenomenal, incredible and superb.
The missus, sometimes known as the Crab Cake Queen (which I, at some personal risk, sometimes shorten to Crabby if I’m “in my cups” and I want to live dangerously), ordered a House Chopped Salad topped with a homemade crab cake. Those crab cakes, btw, are IMPORTED. From Philadelphia. By the owner’s dad on a regular basis. Sometimes flown down, sometimes driven down. Don’t miss them, if crab cakes are your thing. The missus declared them — and the salad upon which they rested — to be among the best she has ever eaten.
There’s a large space on the second floor of JohnnyLukes that’s available for gatherings (beer dinners?) as well as an enclosed outdoor patio that seats 50. I inquired of Abby how the off-season affects her business, and her response was not surprising.
“Everyone else’s off-season is our on season,” said the energetic, affable mom (and former elementary school teacher) of two.
Perhaps that’s due to the way all 50 employees — including the owners — treat their customers. There’s a very palpable sense that everyone who works there is genuinely happy that you’re there, and they’re anxious to make your stay pleasant.
One of those is Abby’s 11-year-old daughter, Ella, who often serves as a hostess.
“She’s 11 going on 40,” muses Abby. “Very mature and learning how to best interact with people of all ages and all moods. We’re very proud of her.”
Set your GPS to 5500 Market Street in Wilmington and save the destination. No matter where you’re coming from, the trip is worth it. And you won’t wind up on an empty highway overpass.
5500 Market Street, Wilmington
COVID-19 UPDATE: For the updates to hours and operations visit the JohnnyLukes Facebook Page.